Five years ago, the Jersey Sting was the most shocking federal sting operation in New Jersey that caught 44 people, including mayors, political candidates and rabbis. At the time, Gov. Chris Christie was the attorney general and was in charge of the sting. Josh Margolin and Ted Sherman wrote The Jersey Sting about the federal operation and discussed it with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Star-Ledger Staff Writer Sherman said that the sting began when failed real estate investor Solomon Dwek got into trouble in a scheme that he was running and tried to get out of it with bank fraud. He said that Dwek went to a bank drive-in window and tried to get $50 million out of the bank. Sherman said that Dwek became a witness for the government and became involved in a sting operation that lasted three years.
ABC News Senior Investigative Reporter Margolin said that everybody heard that a series of arrests had happened one morning in July 2009 as the governor’s race was going on. He said that he and Sherman tried to piece together exactly what led to the arrests of 44 people. He said that the two reporters had people who were close to the investigation and some prosecutors who were involved in the investigation as sources. He said that it was really a success story for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey and he said that the people from the office were willing to talk candidly and openly about what had led up to the arrests.
Margolin said that at the time, Christie had stepped down from the attorney general position to run for governor. Sherman said that much of the sting happened on Christie’s watch and it did not turn into a political case at that point because it was mostly money laundering. He said that after Christie left, the sting changed into a political corruption probe but Christie was out of the office by that time. Sherman said that he and Margolin have been asked many times whether there was any political implications in the timing of Christie leaving but they have not found evidence of that.
Margolin said that the case could have gone on but at one point the Justice Department made a decision that they needed to terminate the case, arrest the people that they had who committed crimes and go public with it.
When asked why New Jersey is such a rich environment for a political corruption, Margolin said, “The question gets asked a lot and we as reporters have asked it and been asked the question. It is a little bit of chicken and egg. The easiest way to look at it is, people who want you to believe that it’s not more corrupt just say that there is more of an appetite for corruption stories and it’s the media’s fault. That is probably not really true. People on both sides of the aisle seem to believe that New Jersey, because of the fact that we have a lot of people in a small location, a very compact state, coupled with a lot of different layers of government, leaves a lot of openings for people to be corrupt.”
Sherman said that as they wrote in The Jersey Sting, New Jersey is a target rich environment.